Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas

            This is the fourth volume in the Three Musketeers series.  (See also The Three MusketeersTwenty Years After  and The Vicomte de Bragelonne).
            As I mentioned in my review of The Vicomte de Bragelonne, in the original French publication there are only 3 books total, but in English the final 3rd book is split into 4 volumes.  So this was originally chapters 76-140 of the 3rd book.  (Divisions differ slightly from publisher to publisher, but I downloaded this book from Project Gutenberg—LINK HERE, so I’m following their divisions.)
            I should also mention that the title of this book is inaccurate and needlessly confusing.  This does not take place 10 years after the preceding volume, but rather picks up immediately where The Vicomte de Bragelonne left off.  The title for this volume comes from the fact that in the original French publication, the whole 3rd book was entitled The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later.  The title was split across two separate books in the English translation, but it means that both books together take place 10 years after the events described in Twenty Years After.  Or in other words, 30 years after the events described in original Three Musketeers. 

            Did I manage to describe that without confusing everyone?  Here’s the same information in a table form:

The Three Musketeers
Twenty Years After
The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later: Chapter 1-269
The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Chapters 1-75
Ten Years Later: Chapters 76-140
And two more books yet to read…

The Review
          Much of what I had to say for The Vicomte de Bragelonne holds true for this book as well, only perhaps even more so now.
            The original 4 Musketeers barely figure at all in this volume.  They pop up from time to time, but they are now minor characters in their own series.
            The story changes focus so often that it’s hard to tell who the main characters are supposed to be.  One character will be followed for several chapters, only for their story to be abruptly dropped as the narrator changes over to another character.  But broadly speaking, the story is now all about the nobles and courtiers of the court of Louis XIV, and the young King Louis XIV himself. 
            Instead of being tightly focused, the story keeps expanding outwards and outwards.  More characters, plots, intrigues, and romances are constantly being brought into the story.
            There’s political intrigue as the struggle between the superintendent Fouquet and the finance minister Colbert.
            There’s religious intrigue as the new leader of the Jesuits is chosen (and even hints of a rivalry between the Jesuits the Pope.)
            And there are several love triangles and romances.
            I’m not sure whether Alexandre Dumas is going to provide a satisfying conclusion to all the plots he’s introduced, but at the moment I’m loving how ambitious this story is.  (I’ve always loved epic stories, and this definitely seems to be developing into quite an epic.)

            Although the book at times reads like an overly-dramatic romantic novel, a trip over to Wikipedia reveals that much of the book is actually (loosely) based on real historical fact.  Many parts of the book that I thought were pure invention turned out to be at least partly true.  For example, the Duke of Buckingham really was sent away from France for acting scandalously during Prince Philip and Princess Henrietta’s wedding (W).  The Comte de Guiche really did have a rumored affair with Princess Henrietta (W).  In fact most of the characters in this book are loosely based on real historical figures. 
            If you’re a fan of historical fiction,  all this increases the interest of the book even more.
            (Admittedly not everyone is a fan of historical fiction.  Even among fellow history buffs, I meet people who say they prefer to just read straightforward history rather than have to sort out the truth from fiction.  But I actually prefer learning history from stories, and then once my interest in the period has been piqued, I enjoy doing my research afterwards to find out how much of the story is true.)

            Against all this, however, I do have two complaints about the book:
            1). The pacing of the book is a little bit too slow for me.  In contrast to the fast pace of the original Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas is now clearly taking his time to set up the story, and the various scandals and love triangles are all set-up very slowly.  Characters will spend several chapters admiring someone else from a distance, or spend a long time only hinting at deeper feelings.  Whenever a new courtroom scandal finally does emerge, then the pay-off is good. But the getting there can be tedious.

            2). Although it’s difficult to decide who the main characters are in this epic tale, Raoul and Louise de Valliere are clearly meant to be the most sympathetic characters.  But Alexandre Dumas put in too much effort into making them good, virtuous, and innocent, and the result is that they are the most boring characters in the whole story.  As a result, I have trouble working up any interest in their storylines.

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